José Mourinho has admitted that Manchester United are part of the “second level” of European teams, in a separate section to the giants of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Man United returned to the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday night with a comfortable 3-0 victory against Swiss champions FC Basel. The Reds spent last season toiling in the UEFA Europa League, the continent’s second-tier competition, and lifted the trophy to give them a path back to the elite.
Mourinho, though, told reporters at Old Trafford on Tuesday that things are different for United, in a footballing sense, compared to the Spanish giants and Bayern Munich.
“I think for these teams that you are speaking of and for the Real Madrids, Barcelonas and Bayerns, the Champions League starts in February. Now is just the warming up,” he said.
“And in February, when us English teams are trying to survive after the winter period, they are fresh and ready after these warm-ups.”
“For them, this is a warm-up. I think we are in the second level. The second level is, let’s qualify, let’s make the points to qualify for the knockout phase. When we do that, let’s enjoy playing against the big guys.”
Given FC Barcelona dispatched of Scottish champions Celtic with ease on Tuesday, a 5-0 victory, Mourinho is correct in that United’s European rivals often find the group stages far simpler than the English teams.
United are undoubtedly contending with Real Madrid and Barcelona on a commercial level, as the biggest club in world football. However, the on-pitch side of things is yet to catch up for the Reds under Mourinho, and he’s right that the club remains on a different level to European champions Real Madrid and their Spanish rivals Barcelona.
This season is the chance for United to show they are close to competing for Europe’s major prize once more, the first season back in the Champions League after an absence of almost two years.
Mourinho had spoken earlier this week of the lack of a winter break in England, though explained why, although it harms English teams’ chances in Europe, he would never get rid of it because of the excitement during the festive period.